Friday, December 28, 2018

Prayers R Us

Looking for something special to give to your special someone for New Year’s? How about buying a prayer? Not any old prayer, but a Holy Land prayer. I am referring to the burgeoning market of buying prayers in Jerusalem. Maybe it is more accurately called Rent-a-Prayer. For as little as the price of a meal at the local diner you can get a bona fide holy person of your choice to pray for you or your loved one at one of the holy sites in the Holy City.

A business known as “Holy Land Prayer” offers packages ranging from $15 to $40. For that you get a priest to read a prayer in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the spot where tradition says Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. For more particular customers the company “Salvation Garden” allows you to choose from a Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox clergyman to read your prayer.

If kosher is more to your taste, a “Western Wall Prayer Delivery Service” will have a rabbi or Torah scholar offer a prayer at the holiest site of Judaism. Prices range from the $29 economy package to the $3,600 deluxe package that provide 10 people praying daily for 40 days, as well as reading the entire Book of Psalms.

I am trying to wrap my mind around this phenomenon. To be honest it smells much like selling indulgences, a practice which prompted the spiritual Resistance known as the Protestant Reformation. I guess I am too much of a protestant to believe that money buys any spiritual commodity, or that any person or place is any holier than any other.

I understand the lure of sacred sites, but I am not sure what to make of proxy prayers. I have had spiritual experiences at religious sites in the Holy Land, but I can’t see how they are transferable to other people for a price.

Do people believe that prayers are more likely to be answered if prayed from a certain geographical location? Are those spots closer to heaven? Is there less atmospheric interference? Do people believe that the veil between heaven and earth is thinner at certain spots?

As a student of the world’s religions, I know that holy places are a widespread phenomenon. On our trips to the Holy Land, you could not walk more than a few steps in Jerusalem without tripping over a holy site. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam fight over the sacred real estate of that city.

Christians go on pilgrimages to other holy sites as well, such as Lourdes. Muslims have a religious obligation to take a pilgrimage to Mecca once during their lifetimes. Every Muslim is supposed to pray toward Mecca five times a day. New Agers believe that certain spots on earth – called spiritual vortexes - have greater spiritual power. Places like Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and Sedona, Arizona.

I love the holy places of the Holy Land. I have led several tours of the Holy Land during my ministry, and I have seen the emotional effect that places can have upon people. I honor these pilgrims’ experience. But for me holiness is not in the place but the people. The holy sites are just geographical locations of historical significance. God is not more present there than anywhere else.

In my experience, God is present everywhere. Wherever I am, God is. The apostle Paul says our bodies are temples of God, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are walking holy sites. Wherever we walk is holy ground. We are our own priests; no paid clergy necessary. I experience God present here and now; I have no need to go elsewhere to be closer to God. Or to pay for anyone to pray in such places for me.

As Jacob said of the isolated spot in the wilderness where he camped for the night, “God is in this place and I did not realize it. This is none other than the house of God! This is the gate of heaven!” God is wherever we are. God is here now. All we have to do is be here now to know God’s presence. We are living prayers. You are a holy place. Credit cards not accepted.

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